Gregory Wright

A plea for compassionate government

A reader, Mr. B, questioned my characterization last week of Mike Ramsey, Butte County’s district attorney. Ramsey’s been in office since 1987, which is a good reason to pick somebody new. All that experience can corrupt as easily as season. Twenty-three years in one job would make anybody at least stale, and I think a one-term limit will deepen what I’ll call our democracy and diffuse all that power rather than privatize it. Any government job that requires more than one term to do well should be restructured.

Mr. B asks if the District Attorney’s Office has “been involved in any innovative law-enforcement strategies such as drug court, or other programs to divert away from incarceration.” I have no idea. I’m sure over the years the office of the Butte County district attorney has made some liberal moves. Governments act for lots of different reasons, and with an authoritarian relationship like that of the district attorney to everybody else, especially staff, there’s no way you or I will ever know who imagined a change and who made it happen. I commend Mr. Ramsey for any and all liberal, humanitarian changes instituted while he’s been in office, especially the ones he thought up on his own. Huzzah!

Gregory Wright refused a plea bargain that some said would have been a better deal. Greg’s talents seem not to be intellectual, and at 17 he had a right to make some bad decisions, especially on the advice of his attorney, who recommended that he accept 22 years, rather than seven-to-life. (There’s a good account of the case online.) At 17 you wouldn’t have known what to do either. He was depressed and lovelorn and started out to kill himself. He didn’t press charges though.

The District Attorney’s Office didn’t have to do anything at all. Greg was charged as an adult with attempted murder, two obvious lies. Such nonsense may be legally valid, but the law can be anything—corrupt, unfair, inhumane, stupid, vengeful. In the world of plain English, Greg didn’t try to kill anybody. The Butte County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted as an adult for attempted murder a minor who they knew had not tried to kill anyone, and then dropped the bogus murder charge in the plea bargain. That’s what happened.

Yes, Greg brought a gun to school. Cops do it all the time. Yes, he twice fired shots into the ceiling for emphasis. He also let the students in the band room leave, and some stayed with him to try to talk him out of killing himself. That’s how the people there felt about him.

I’m not judging Ramsey’s overall performance. He’s obviously good enough for voters. I just think compassionate government is possible, and now is a good time.